The Eyes Have It: Jessica Stam and Portraying Windows to the Soul
I’ve always been fascinated by eyes. I’m certainly not alone with this obsession; indeed, for hundreds of years, artists, writers and philosophers alike have mused over the significance of the eyes; their significance and also their power.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed that "An eye can threaten like a loaded gun…… or in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, make the heart dance with joy." I think this is a very acute observation. A single stern glance can freeze even the bravest of men in their tracks, and likewise, a silent, loving look can instantly transform the mood of the recipient for the better.
The Psychology of Eye Contact
Eye contact is one of the most powerful forms of non-verbal communication. Believe it or not, nearly 50% of the attention that we give to the faces of others is directed at the eyes; with the mouth (in second place) only generating a mere 12% of the attention.
It’s little wonder that we are drawn so much to the eyes. From an early age, we develop the innate ability to detect even the most subtle emotions simply from observing changes in the eye; including dilation of the pupil, blinking and shifting focus.
We continually scan the eyes of others, scrutinizing them, in an attempt to gain better understanding of the ‘real’ person within, and to quite literally ‘see inside their soul’. Make no mistake; eye contact can be a tremendously potent thing! You only have to look how often it is used in political situations and used as an assertion of power; where dominance is claimed by simply being the one to make the other cast their eyes away in defeat.
Women and Eyes
I think that women in particular understand the power that the eyes can wield. Perhaps this is because women generally tend to be better at non verbal communication than us men and far more able to pick up on the emotions of others, just by assessing subtle expressions and body language.
A direct gaze from the eyes of a beautiful woman is one of the most alluring aspects of femininity. As an artist, I find myself ceaselessly magnetized by the boldness of the direct feminine gaze, hypnotized by a stare that is both dominant (daring me to meet it) and passive (allowing me to see the ‘real’ person within) at the same time. I agree wholeheartedly with the old adage that the eyes are the ‘window to the soul’; and on an artistic level, I find myself continually grasping at the elusive, hidden qualities within the people around me, which very occasionally, reveals itself through the eyes.
Jessica Stam: Crystal Clear Gaze
Jessica Stam, a recently acquired friend of mine, is the subject of my latest painting; and I confess, my inspiration to paint her evolved largely from to the aesthetic appeal of her remarkable eyes. Since catapulting to fame around a decade ago, she’s graced the covers of the UK, German and Turkish Vogue, paced the catwalks for Chanel, Givenchy and Christian Dior (to mention just a few) and has appeared in countless fashion ad campaigns.
Her doll-like, delicate features can initially indicate a similarly fragile figure, but actually, when you meet Jessica in the flesh, you appreciate that this is very much not the case.
When I first met Jessica at a charity gala, I immediately noticed her direct, strong gaze. As with many of the females from whom I draw artistic inspiration, it was apparent from the very first glance that this was an empowered, confident woman; but I was also intrigued by the air of almost feline mystery, an enigmatic undertow in that crystal clear stare.
When painting Jessica Stam’s portrait, instead of wanting to capture the face as a whole, I chose to focus solely on those eyes and to work on reflecting the elemental quality of her gaze; the bright, clear blue of the iris, which both confronts and conceals in equal measures. Her eyes, I find, are almost like the water itself; playful, clear, bright; yet with hidden depths.
By contrast, the rest of the face is simple, flowing lines and gradients; serving only to emphasize the drama of those eyes.
With every person that I paint, I find myself seeking to discover the reality of who they truly are, creating an image that encapsulates their essence; and with Jessica’s portrait, I took this to an extreme, filtering out virtually everything else, and zoning solely into the depths of her gaze. I like to think that I captured the independence that radiates from her, in combination with the passionate, humanitarian spirit that she possesses.
The painting, titled "Crystalline," is made up of 6 layers of paintings. The first 3 layers are all acrylic and then I coated the entire painting with a blue-tinted crystal resin. I then painted 2 more layers on top to complete the work. The 6 layers create an intensely vibrant & dramatic scale of blue.
Did I capture a glimpse into her soul? Who knows? But I sought to find a truth within those open, crystalline eyes, and that, as an artist, is the most important thing of all.
When it comes to charity, Stam is the real deal, an angel walking amongst us. Her humanitarian efforts inspire me to be a better a person. Part of the proceeds generated off the sale of her portrait will be divided and donated to three of the charities Jessica Stam is affiliated with.